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Cameroon Rebels Surrender on Western Border with Nigeria, Join DDR Centers

Nigeria and Cameroon
Nigeria and Cameroon

Officials in Cameroon say 18 separatists have disarmed and surrendered to authorities in the biggest defection since the conflict broke out in 2017. Authorities say the English-speaking rebels, including two self-proclaimed generals, were hiding across the border in neighboring Nigeria. Leaders of the separatists, who want to break away from French-speaking-majority Cameroon, have vowed to track down and kill the defectors.

Cameroon's military says 18 fighters, including David Dibo, alias General Baron, and Ekpe Jerome, alias General JB, surrendered and handed over their weapons in Mundemba Tuesday.

Mundemba is a town in Cameroon's English-speaking southwest region that shares a border with Nigeria.

Since 2017, separatists have been fighting to carve out an independent state called Ambazonia in Cameroon's English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions.

The self-proclaimed General Baron says he convinced the fighters to surrender. He says Cameroon military firepower was more than they could bear and that he saw several hundred fighters killed by government troops within the past six years.

He says he is pleading with scores of fighters, who are still hiding in the bush, to drop their weapons and be pardoned by the Cameroon government. He says fighters hiding on the border with Nigeria should hand their weapons to Cameroon police or government troops as he did, without which they will be killed by either hunger, disease or in battles.

Speaking with Cameroon's state broadcaster, CRTV, on Tuesday, Baron says the fighters handed their weapons to Cameroon military and government officials in Ndian, an administrative unit where Mundemba is located.

Gilbert Guibai Baldena is the highest Cameroon government official in Ndian. He has assured the former fighters that the government will protect them.

“General Baron and all of you{fighters} ran away to Nigeria because it is difficult to continue," Baldena said. "Tell the others who are still in the bush to come out. The head of state (Cameroon’s president) wants every Cameroonian to take part in the reconstruction and development of the country"

Baldena also warned that separatist fighters who refuse to surrender and drop their weapons will be killed by Cameroon government troops,

Following their surrender, the government says the former fighters will be taken to the center for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, or DDR in Buea, capital of Cameroon's English speaking southwest region.

The government says the defections are the largest number of fighters to surrender in a single day and the first time two dreaded generals dropped their weapons and surrendered to Cameroon's military.

It is also the first time rebels operating in Cameroon and hiding across the border in Nigeria have said they are wanted in the two countries, according to the government.

The rebels say that when they attack government edifices and troops in Cameroon’s Southwest region they would escape from Mundemba across the porous border, through thick forests to Nigeria's Cross River State.

In addition to Cameroon’s government coming after them, they say Cross River State officials declared them wanted and ordered Nigeria’s military to kill or arrest them, a claim VOA could not independently verify.

But on several occasions, Nigeria's local media reported that suspected Ambazonia secessionist militants from Cameroon attacked Cross River State border villages.

Crisis24, a Quebec-headquartered international security management group, says that in one of the attacks on Bashu, a community in the Boki Local Government Area in May 2022, rebels from Cameroon killed up to 20 civilians who had fled the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s Southwest region where Mundemba is located.

Separatists on social media, including Facebook and WhatsApp, say they will attack and kill all fighters who resign and join DDR centers created by Cameroon’s central government in Yaounde. The government says fighters who surrender will be pardoned, trained to create businesses and reintegrated socially.

Battles between Cameroon government troops and western separatists escalated to armed conflict in 2017. Cameroon English speaking separatists are fighting to carve out an independent English-speaking state from the French majority nation.

The International Crisis Group estimates the conflict has killed about 6,000 people and displaced more than half-a-million.